Afghanistan + 2 more

UN press briefing in Islamabad 11 Feb 2002

News and Press Release
Originally published
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's briefing at the United Nations Information Centre in Islamabad by the United Nations offices for Pakistan and Afghanistan (excluding question and answer session).

** Eric Falt, Director, UN Information Centre

Good afternoon. You have just seen outside a demonstration by WHO of an emergency health kit of the kind they are sending to Afghanistan. WHO has dispatched 300 tons of medicines and supplies to help three million people survive this winter in Afghanistan, so let us hear immediately more details from Lori.

** Lori Hieber-Girardet, Spokesperson for WHO

In the northeast of Afghanistan, 50% of the area is inaccessible for most of the year. Like other remote areas of Afghanistan, villages and towns in Badakhshan province can be cut off for months at a time during harsh winter months. Heavy snowfalls block roads, making it impossible for local populations to secure essential supplies, including drugs, and medicines. In many areas, there are simply no roads at all. Of the million inhabitants of Badakhshan, half have no access any health services.

According to Dr. Katja Schemionek, of the WHO sub-office in Faizabad, 450,000 people living in areas of Badakhshan rely on the international community to provide them with essential medical supplies needed to survive. Recently, the World Health Organization dispatched 13 emergency health kits to Faizabad to be forwarded to the most remote areas in Badakhshan. In early November, three of the kits were carried over the snowy mountain passes by donkeys loaded with packs on their backs. No other means of transportation was available at that time.

The health supplies for Badakhshan were provided as part of the WHO's emergency response to the Afghanistan crisis. Since September 11, 2001, WHO has made sure nearly three million Afghans have had access to essential medicines.

In a humanitarian crisis, food, shelter, and water are the essential components needed to save lives. Without medicines to treat common diseases, however, fatality rates can skyrocket. In winter months, cold weather brings life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia, which is difficult to treat without antibiotics.

The supply of essential medicines and supplies to Afghanistan is critical because many Afghans are not able to purchase required medicines. In some cases, patients will buy the initial doses of drugs needed, but be unable to pay for the medicine required to complete treatment.

Helping Afghans survive and improve their lives is a key concern of WHO. Shortly after the crisis began in Afghanistan this autumn, a Central Asia Crisis Unit was established in the Emergency and Humanitarian Action department of the World Health Organization in Geneva. One of this unit's primary tasks was to make sure Afghans have access to health supplies throughout the crisis, and winter months to tackle the diseases that ravage the Afghan people. The biggest killers are measles, acute respiratory infections, pregnancy related complications, diarrhea, and tuberculosis. Emergency health kits equip hospitals and clinics with the supplies needed to treat these diseases, and offer other essential health services.

WHO sends three types of health packages to Afghanistan and the region: Emergency Health Kits (Essential drugs for 10,000 people for three months); Burn Dressing Modules (40 sterile dressings for burn cases); and Trauma Kits (Surgical supplies for 100 cases).

Emergency Health Kits make up the bulk of WHO's relief effort for Afghanistan. 357 have already been sent or are in the pipeline. This breaks down into 291 for Afghanistan, 20 for Iran, 25 for Pakistan, 7 for Turkmenistan, 7 for Tajikistan, and 7 for Uzbekistan. The kits are compiled by the manufacturer IDA (International Dispensary Association) in Holland and sent by airfreight to Pakistan, Iran, or Tajikistan from where they are transported to the neediest areas. This week, WHO officials in Herat will send supplies by aircraft to one of the most remote areas of Afghanistan, Ghor province. Otherwise, health supplies are transported mostly by road or donkey to the remote areas.

Each Emergency Health Kit contains 24 boxes weighing about one ton in total. The supplies have been carefully chosen, and are designed to provide the types of medicines a typical population of ten thousand people would be likely to require over a three-month period.

The contents include essential drugs to treat infectious diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea, skin diseases, and gynecological infections. Minor surgical equipment to treat bone fractures, and injuries are also included. Midwifery sets including forceps, and scissors help ensure safe deliveries.

Other health kit items include material to keep hospitals and clinics in functioning order, such as gloves, feeding tubes, and perfusions to be delivered intravenously. Emergency health kits enable health workers to treat a vast array of diseases including asthma, malaria, allergies, peptic disorders and even worms. Each health kit costs $4,100, with an additional $2,500 on average for transportation expenses.

A trauma kit contains enough surgical equipment to perform operations on one hundred patients. In a country which experiences hundreds of landmine injuries a day, emergency surgeries can be frequent. One part of the trauma kit contains drugs required for anesthesia and the second part contains surgical instruments, such as scalpels, needles and syringes. These kits are often used for amputations or to perform emergency care for appendicitis. Each trauma kit costs $11,500.

Burn kits are compiled by Medecins sans Frontieres for WHO and cost $125 each. They contain burn cream, gauze, dressings, and cotton swabs. Burns from cooking are, unfortunately, quite common in Afghanistan. In particular, women are vulnerable to burns from cooking oil. Burn kits also treat mine victims and war injuries.

The total cost to date for the supply of this material has been more than 2 million dollars. Many health clinics and hospitals would not have been able to provide even the most rudimentary services to needy populations throughout the past several months without these supplies.

In the months ahead as Afghanistan moves from an emergency to a reconstruction phase, it is important that the provision of essential health supplies also adapt to the developing situation. In 2002, WHO will work to help the Afghan Ministry of Health develop an essential drugs program at an estimated cost of $25,000,000. This includes a system for buying and distributing safe and reliable drugs. By combining emergency relief, and long-term planning, the WHO is working to ensure that all Afghans are able to receive the medicines needed to save and improve their lives.

** Ariana Yaftali, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan

On the avalanche stay in Kabul, at least five people are dead and 400 rescued. Rescuers battled for hours against atrocious weather conditions to reach hundreds of people who have been trapped in the Salang Pass, in Parwan province for more than 30 hours.

Halo Trust, the British NGO, spearheading the rescue operation said it had evacuated some 300 people, who have been trapped in 57 vehicles in Qabre Kleaner, which is on the southern edge of the Salang tunnel, some 100 kilometers north of the capital Kabul since yesterday morning. Two children were found dead, one person was seriously injured and persons with complications were rushed to Kabul for treatment.

Many of the survivors were suffering from frostbite and dehydration. Earlier, 100 people whose vehicles were stuck in the northern section of the tunnel were rescued. Three adults are known to have died inside the tunnel. Foul weather conditions, ferocious winds and heavy snowfalls hampered rescue efforts for hours.

In the west, the current influx of new IDPs does not exceed more than 50-70 persons per day, which means a continued decrease of arrivals from previous weeks. Final preparations for the Maslakh IDP re-registration were completed during last week. The camp was sealed off on Sunday 10 February by the military and all camp residents present were issued a non-removable plastic wristband.

The exercise took place without major incidents. Most IDPs were registered within 3-4 hours at the 36 re-registration centers, while sick or handicapped were attended to by mobile teams. Now, families will register and wristbands will be removed and taken off in exchange for one ration and distribution booklet per family. Maslakh camp will then be closed to new arrival.

Newly arriving IDPs will be re-directed to an Annex in Shaidayee camp during the registration, where they will undergo medical screening and issued with food, tents, blankets and other non-food items. Shaidayee camp has currently a population of about 23,000 IDPs. UNICEF will ensure that water and sanitation facilities will accommodate the new arrivals.

The re-registration will provide data on places of origin, in order to prepare for their return. The majority of the IDPs are from drought stricken villages in Ghor and Baghdis Province, and a total of 12,000 have now registered for voluntary return before the planting season. They will be provided with agricultural tools and seeds. IOM will establish a series of IOM transit centers across Afghanistan to accommodate displaced people and refugees returning to their original towns and villages. The center in Qala-e-Naw will receive both returnees from the Herat IDP camps, and refugees from Iran.

In Kandahar, during the past week the Kandahar Interim Authority sponsored Mission of 'Notables' to Herat discuss a number of key inter-regional issues successfully completed its mission by achieving a mutual agreement on road security, and other issues.

The security situation has improved since last week. The region is accessible from Pakistan as well as from Iran through all key-crossing points. The highway from Kandahar to Dilaram is considered safe for daylight travel. A recent agreement between the Interim Authorities in Kandahar and Herat on a Highway Security Force to protect travelers between the two key cities is expected to further improve the security for road missions. The road between Kandahar and Kabul is not yet recommended for evening travel.

The previously mentioned "clean up" operation and de-weaponization campaign continues in the entire region including Kandahar City. Civil servants, which include local security forces are increasingly being paid salary for their work. Now, UNOPS/ARRP have also joined the UN family in Kandahar.

The return of NGOs to southern Afghanistan continues to be slow. Still, few NGOs have returned limiting, to some extent, the delivery of emergency relief goods to the suffering population.

Tearfund (an UK based charity organization) with around US$ 3.5 million of immediate funds available for interventions to support the vulnerable Afghan population made an initial needs assessment mission to Kandahar province late last week. Tearfund intends to follow up with a technical assessment mission shortly.

During their brief Mission to Kandahar, Tearfund met with key UN agencies, NGOs as well as relevant departments within the new Interim Authority. Tearfund is interested to work through local NGOs in the areas of public health education, water and sanitation, and shelter sector.

Also in the south, there are some 8,426 local families and 4,697 IDP families (27,535) living in Nimroz province.

The IDP population in Nimroz includes the following categories of vulnerable people: unaccompanied minors, unaccompanied older persons, persons with severe disability, chronically ill persons women-headed households, single parents' households, households with missing children, households having non-effective community links.

In general, the IDPs in Nimroz came from their places of origin in Afghanistan after 11 September 2001 from October to December 2001. A majority of them are from Farad province. Some of the IDPs are also from Ghor, Kandahar, Badghis, Nimroz, Helm and, and Miamian. The total number of IDPs is 4,697 families.

The main needs of the IDPs in Nimroz are food shelter, clothing, and other things. Only 3% (159 families) expressed willingness to return to their places of origin immediately. 28 % (1,336 families) responded that they would return later and 68 % (3,176 families) do not yet think about returning. The reasons of the non-return intentions of the IDP families vary from fear of violence to personal security.

** Jennifer Abrahamson, Spokesperson for WFP

Thanks to the Swedish Rescue Services Agency, working to clear roads in western Afghanistan, there have been no disruptions in the distribution of WFP food over the last week.

As of this morning, the Chagcharan road to Ghor province was open and WFP's Swedish road clearance team is doing its best to keep it open. The Swedish Rescue Services Agency snow clearance team has continued clearing two passes on the road between Ghok to Chaghcharan. The SRSA Base Camp team in Hirat continues to serve as back up for WFP activities in the Herat region and as a back up for the snow-clearance teams. The drivers in the Herat Base Camp team continue to transport supplies to the Chaghcharan snow-clearance team. More equipment has been sent and six de-miners are accompanying the clearing team.

Some 4,000 metric tons of food was dispatched in Herat, Faryab, Badghis and Ghor provinces since the beginning of the month.

The Swiss Federation for Mine Action, which assists WFP operations in coordination with UN OCHA de-mining project is gearing up for its next major operational task in Herat.

In addition, The Canadian Avalanche Control Team continues to work under extremely harsh conditions to keep the Faizabad - Ishkashim road clear, with recent temperatures registering as low as -30C with wind chill.

Two helicopters being used for a WFP rapid assessment mission in Afghanistan arrived in Mazar-I-Sharif on Saturday, after being delayed several days in Dushanbe, Tajikistan due to strong winds and icy conditions. Test flights that took place yesterday were successful, and assessments will begin today in the north.

In the Jalalabad region, WFP staff conducted 6 monitoring missions over the past week in Alingar, Surkhord, Hessarak and Chaprahar districts of Nangarhar and Lagman provinces. WFP monitors attended the distributions and assessed the new proposals with the implementing partners.

A total 149.705 tons of food were distributed among 10,500 beneficiaries. This included 475 pregnant mothers and children under the hospital supplementary feeding program. A total 356 families headed by widows or without having any able bodied person to support their families, also received WFP assistance during this week.

By late this week, nearly 300,000 tons of WFP food will have been dispatched to Afghanistan since September/October 2001. Nearly 250,000 tons of food has been distributed to 6.6 million people since October.

** Melita Sunjic, Spokesperson for UNHCR

535 refugees that had been scheduled for relocation last Thursday were finally brought to Shalman yesterday. Last week the convoy got stuck in the snow on its way from Jalozai makeshift camp top Shalman in the Tribal Areas of NWFP and had to return to Jalozai. These had been the first snowfalls in the region in forty years.

The refugees were accommodated in Jalozai for two more days until road conditions permitted their relocation on nine busses yesterday.

There are only 800 refugees left in Jalozai, just one hundredth of the population the site, accommodated at its peak. The last convoy will leave for Barkili tomorrow morning and the makeshift camp that became known as New Jalozai will be finally closed in the presence of UNHCR's Deputy Representative to Pakistan, Ms. Eva Demant and the Commissioner for Afghan Refugees. UNHCR will provide a bus for journalists who want to cover the event.